For all the ceremony that marked Kyrgyzstan’s entry into the Eurasian Economic Union, not much appears to have changed on the border with the only neighboring fellow member, Kazakhstan.
Speaking at a press conference on August 13, Damira Dootoalieva, chairman of the central committee of the Kyrgyzstan Traders Union, said a visit to the border had revealed that Kazakh officials are still not letting goods pass through unhindered.
“You can take across two or three bags, but large-scale cargo still cannot be transported into Kazakhstan. A lot of obstacles are being put in the way by the Kazakhs, including by their traffic police,” Dootoalieva said.
Dootoalieva said that a Porter Nissan van carrying goods from Kyrgyzstan was seized on the Kazakhstan side of the border of August 12, only hours after an inaugural ceremony attended by Kyrgyz President Almazbek Atambayev and his Kazakh counterpart, Nursultan Nazarbayev.
“For about three hours, we tried to get it released. As to how we did that, you understand how these things are done,” Dootoalieva said, adding that money exchanged hands.
When the Kazakh customs officials were asked on what grounds the van had been stopped, they responded only that they would be remaining in place for another 100 days, Dootoalieva said.
At the same press conference, Sergei Ponomaryov, president of the Association of Markets, Trade Enterprises and Service Industries of Kyrgyzstan, said teething problems appeared to be down to poor preparation.
Azerbaijan's ships compete in the inaugural Caspian Cup naval skills competition. (photo: MoD Russia)
The first-ever "Caspian Cup" naval skills competition has ended with Russia, unsurprisingly, the winner. But it was Azerbaijan's performance that garnered the most headlines, for all the wrong reasons.
In the final tally, Russia won with 65 points, Kazakhstan came in second with 48, and Azerbaijan brought up the rear with 33 points. The other two Caspian naval states, Iran and Turkmenistan, chose not to compete.
Reporting on the event was spotty, and it's not entirely clear what happened. But from what can be gleaned from the reporting out there, at the first stage of the contest Azerbaijan's entry, Patrol Cutter G-122, had some kind of problem. "Not everything worked out for the Azerbaijani team, their equipment and weapons let them down," said Dmitry Gorbatenko, the chief judge of the competition, on August 6. "They will change the ship and on August 7 Azerbaijan will be able to perform and show off their mastery in this contest."
The same day, though, Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry responded, saying that "Russian websites" were spreading information "that does not fully reflect the reality of the situation."
"The press service of the Ministry of Defense officially reports that minor problems were quickly solved on the scene by our sailors," the ministry said in a statement. "At the current time the warships taking part in the competition are successfully continuing to compete in the crew skills and equipment capabilities [competitions]. Contrary to the published information, our soldiers have successfully carried out all tasks which have been assigned up to now, have destroyed all sea and air targets, achieving an excellent result."
A row has erupted in northern Kazakhstan over the erection of a monument to Russian Tsar Nicholas II, who is reviled by many Kazakhs for his association with the bloody suppression of an uprising in 1916.
The bust to Tsar Nicholas II, who was murdered by the Bolsheviks following the 1917 Russian Revolution, was put up by local businessman Pyotr Vanger outside a church in the village of Arkhangelskoye, just south of the border with Russia.
On August 10, the statue was moved inside the village’s Russian Orthodox church following an outcry on social media about a monument revering somebody perceived as a Russian despot appearing in public.
“The monument has been taken inside, into the church,” Tengri News quoted local authorities as saying. “The decision to take it inside was made by the entrepreneur himself, to avoid questions.”
The statue has so far avoided the fate of a monument to Soviet leader Josef Stalin in southern Kazakhstan which was torn down earlier this year after generating a similar controversy.
That statue was removed from its pedestal in May, after villagers had re-erected it following its toppling in a hurricane last summer.
Village authorities ruled that they had acted without planning permission. But the case had wider political connotations as many were enraged at the reverential treatment of a Soviet leader whose policies caused the death of millions of people in Kazakhstan and elsewhere in the Soviet Union.
Statues to Russian and Soviet despots are sensitive for Astana, which is eager to promote its own sovereignty without antagonizing its powerful neighbor and close ally Russia.
The choice of Yesimov to clean up the mess at EXPO-17 following embarrassing revelations that officials had been siphoning off millions from funds intended to organize the international fair suggests he still enjoys Nazarbayev’s confidence. That suggests the 64-year-old former mayor is still a frontrunner to succeed Nazarbayev when a transition of power eventually takes place.
Yesimov’s replacement as mayor of the country’s largest and richest city has been named as Baurzhan Baybek, a top official in the ruling Nur Otan party.
The president was full of praise for Yesimov as he introduced Baybek as his successor in Almaty on August 9. The hundreds of people whose homes were damaged in a mudslide that hit the city last month without early-warning procedures being activated might not be so effusive.
Baybek’s appointment marks him as an up-and-coming politician whose movements will be closely tracked as he climbs the political ladder.
When an Astana businessman dealt a savage beating on a young man he deemed a love rival, he may have thought his influential connections would grant him impunity.
He was wrong.
On August 7, Astana criminal court sentenced Kayrat Zhamaliyev to 13 years in jail, ending a trial that has revealed the power of social media to hold even Kazakhstan’s movers and shakers to account. Two accomplices received prison terms of 12 and eight years.
Zhamaliyev was found guilty of assaulting Alibi Zhumagulov, whom he reportedly suspected of having an affair with his girlfriend.
Adding spice to the high-profile case is the that fact that Zhamaliyev is married and that the woman in question, Aynur Isina, was reportedly his “tokal” — the Kazakh word for a second wife. That aspect of the affair has led wags in Kazakhstan to dub the case “Tokalgate.”
Polygamy is illegal in Kazakhstan, but the practice of taking a second wife – either under Islamic law or informally — is becoming widespread, as Bloomberg has reported.
Isina, who reportedly has a child by Zhamaliyev, stood by the businessman and denied that Alibi had been subjected to any violence. Both she and his wife, Alena Zhamaliyeva, appeared in court to support him.
Zhamaliyev — a well-known figure in Astana and owner of a hotel, two restaurants and a karaoke bar in the city – was accused of inflicting a serious beating on Zhumagulov and subjecting him to a sexual assault.
Scientists believe they have at long last solved the puzzle of what caused the catastrophic die-offs of endangered saiga antelopes on the steppes of Kazakhstan earlier this summer.
State-run Khabar TV reported on August 4 that the death of the roughly 134,000 saigas was caused by a disease that provokes high fevers, painful swellings and shortness of breath, and can lead to death within 24 hours.
“The cause of death of the saigas is hemorrhagic septicemia,” Steffen Zuther, a German researcher and the international coordinator of the Astana-based Altyn Dala Conservation Initiative, told the TV channel.
Hemorrhagic septicemia — which scientists believe was rapidly spread across the steppe by ticks in May — is a form of pasteurellosis, a disease that killed nearly 12,000 saigas in a 2010 epidemic.
Kazakhstan’s government has not yet confirmed the diagnosis. Bakytbek Duysekeyev, an Agriculture Ministry official, told Khabar that research is ongoing and that the results of that work will be collated in the fall.
The disease has wiped out almost half of Kazakhstan’s population of saigas, distinctive creatures with long, humped noses that allows them to filter air during the dusty, summer months and breathe warm air during the freezing winters.
Before the misfortune struck this year, the country’s population stood at around 300,000, according to government estimates. Astana’s figures are higher than the estimate of 265,000 produced last year by the international Saiga Conservation Alliance after an aerial study of roaming grounds in Kazakhstan.
Kazakhstan's glitzy new capital has been put on Europe's football map as FC Astana overcame Finland's HJK to book a place in the UEFA Champions League play-off round, leaving it two games away from a place in the group stage of Europe's elite club tournament.
The dramatic 4-3 victory over HJK — Astana scored in the third minute of injury time — guarantees the club at least a spot in the group stages of the UEFA Europa League, making the club only the second team from Kazakhstan, after Shakhter Karagandy, to reach this stage.
Kazakhstan is the only Central Asian country to play its soccer in Europe. It joined UEFA — the Union of European Football Associations — in 2002 after competing for 10 years in the Asian Football Confederation, where Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan play their international football.
FC Astana was formed in 2008 from the ashes of two defunct clubs from Kazakhstan's commercial hub, Almaty. It was originally known as Lokomotiv Astana and was bankrolled by Kazakhstan Temir Zholy, the national railroad company.
In 2011, it changed its name and was brought under the wing of Samruk-Kazyna, the national sovereign-wealth fund. The injection of cash has seen the club recently invest in young talent such as Ghanaian forward Patrick Twumasi, who scored Astana's opener against HJK, and Serbian midfielder Nemanja Maksimović.
The club's success is a boost for Kazakhstan's image after the blow of losing the 2022 Winter Olympics to Beijing last week. Sport plays a key role in Kazakhstan's project to promote itself on the international stage.
The opening ceremony of the Caspian Cup naval competition, in Kaspiysk, Russia. (photo: MoD Russia)
Russia has kicked off its inaugural "International Army Games," an Olympic-style competition for militaries, with 2,000 soldiers from 17 countries competing in 13 disciplines from a tank biathlon to naval games on the Caspian to a military cooking contest.
The biggest event by far will be the tank biathlon, in which 13 countries will compete. The tank biathlon was first held two years ago under the auspices of Russia's nascent military bloc the Collective Security Treaty Organization, and last year with an expanded guest list that also included China and India.
All the rest of the events are brand-new and only Belarus and China are competing in most of them (the Russian Ministry of Defense has an extensive English-language guide to the games here, with detailed explanations of the rules for each contest).
From the Bug Pit's coverage area, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Russia, and Tajikistan are all competing in the tank biathlon. Kazakhstan also is competing in the "Aviadarts" air force skills challenge, and both Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan are in the "Caspian Cup." The other participating countries are Angola, Venezuela, Egypt, India, Kuwait, Nicaragua, Pakistan, and Serbia.
There was disappointment in Almaty as it lost out to Beijing in the race to host the 2022 Olympic Winter Games by a mere four votes.
A 500-strong crowd gathered in the mid-afternoon on July 31 in downtown Almaty's Abai Square greeted the news of their city’s defeat with stony silence. Almaty was the clear underdog, and despite giving a good account of itself, the city failed to tip the balance its way as International Olympic Committee delegates gathered in Kuala Lumpur gave the nod to Beijing by a narrow margin of 44 votes to 40.
The decision is a blow to long-term president Nursultan Nazarbayev's image-making project for Kazakhstan, which had hoped for the spectacle of the Winter Olympics as the crowning glory of the country's rise from impoverished post-Soviet backwater to a dynamic, emerging player on the world stage.
Both Almaty and Kazakhstan have gained a massive publicity boost in the world's media as the bid decision day loomed. Almaty received plaudits from IOC delegates for the quality of its bid. That was a remarkable turnaround as it was tagged a rank outsider only a year ago. At that time, there was another rival contender — Norway's capital Oslo — and Almaty received the lowest scores from the IOC working group in most of the evaluation categories.
For the authorities the Winter Olympics bid was all about putting Kazakhstan on the map. “Of course we're not as famous as other big cities,” the vice-chairman of Almaty's bid, Andrey Kruykov, told the Associated Press. “It's our main task to let everybody know [about Almaty].”
The World Trade Organization has approved terms for Kazakhstan to join, paving the way for Central Asia’s leading economy to become a full member toward the end of the year after nearly two decades of “challenging” talks.
Speaking in Geneva after signing the accession protocol with WTO Director-General Roberto Azevedo on July 27, President Nursultan Nazarbayev hailed the imminent accession as a sign that Kazakhstan’s economy is opening up to the world.
“In improving the investment climate, we are giving priority to the diversification of our economy,” he said in remarks quoted by state news agency Kazinform.
Astana sees accession as crucial to its bid to wean Kazakhstan’s economy off its dependence on oil and gas. To that end, Nazarbayev reminded investors that Kazakhstan has devised perks for those putting money into the non-extractive sectors.
The government has indicated that it aims to complete the ratification process by October 31 and hopes Kazakhstan will be a full member once the next WTO ministerial conference comes around in mid-December.
Kazakhstan’s accession negotiations have lasted 19 years and been among the most “challenging” the global body has faced with any country, the WTO said in a statement issued when talks were finally completed last month.
It made it clear that the process had been substantially set back by Kazakhstan joining the Russia-led Customs Union (a regional free trade zone) in 2010, which evolved into the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) this year.
Kazakhstan’s accession process slowed after Russia first said the Customs Union members would negotiate as a bloc to join, before proceeding to join alone in 2012.